On August 25, during the Geneva Watch Days, a new watch brand called Haute-Rive was unveiled to the public along with its first timepiece – Honoris I. Bearing the dimension and aesthetics of a classical dress watch, the watch is deceptively a technical marvel boasting, among others, a 1000-hours power reserve. This is the story of the Stéphane von Gunten, the founder and creative force behind Haute-Rive and its first watch.
Born in the Swiss Jura mountains, and as a direct descendent of a famous watchmaker, Stéphane von Gunten was destined to make a name for himself in the watch industry. After earning a diploma in watchmaking and microtechnology from the famed watchmaking specialization college Technicum, he began his career in 1999 at Ismeca, the semiconductor equipment manufacturer.
His focus then gravitated towards research and development in the field of microfabrication processes for NTB at Buchs University and for ABB in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. In 2005, his formal relationship with the watch industry began while working for prestigious luxury brands, such as Patek Philippe.
In 2007, Stéphane joined Ulysse Nardin where, in the course of the next seven years, he would have a prodigious career that would take him to the position of Research and Development Director. As a result of his prolonged involvement in the company’s R&D projects, Stéphane played a pivotal role in several of Ulysse Nardin’s technical innovations.
Stéphane’s team, in collaboration with SIGATEC (a Ulysse Nardin subsidiary), was instrumental in introducing silicon micromechanical components into watchmaking. Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon, which featured some of these components won the tourbillon watch prize at the 2015 GPHG. He also developed the ‘Grinder’ high-performance self-winding system first presented in the Innovision 2, a watch that premiered no fewer than 10 innovations, 9 of which are his brainchildren.
in 2018, Stéphane initiated Ulysse Nardin’s ‘mysterious modules’ concept, and collaborated with Devialet’s audio engineering team to co-developed a passing strike mechanism with a sound amplification system integrated into the timepiece. He designed and developed the calibre for Freak Next, which included a unique flexible oscillator made by superimposing layers of elastic silicon blades. In 2020, he laid down the engineering concept for the recently unveiled UFO desk clock. Thus far, over 30 patents bear his name either as sole inventor or in collaboration with peers.
In 2022, after a short stint as Technical Director at Universo, Stéphane decided to found his own watch brand – and Haute-Rive was born. Soon after, Patrik Hoffmann, former Sales Director and then CEO of Ulysse Nardin joined the Haute-Rive Board of Directors, alongside his role as Executive Vice-President of Watchbox.
Unlike others who have established independent watch brands recently, Stéphane had three generations of watchmakers to draw inspiration from, especially the one who started that lineage. Irénée Aubry is a 19th-century watchmaker known for watches with record-breaking power reserves. The name Stéphane chose as his brand – Haute-Rive (meaning ‘high shore’) – also happens to be the name of the town on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel where Aubry set up his workshop.
Two of Aubry’s watches were the foundational inspirations for Stéphane’s Haute-Rive. One was the highly successful 8-day pocket watch known as Hebdomas, which was produced by the Graizely Frères watch company from the 1890s to the 1930s at a rate of 1,000 units per day.
The other timepiece conceived by Irénée Aubry was Montre du Pape (or the Pope’s watch) was a sensation. Commissioned by the canton of Jura in 1887 as a Jubilee present to Pope Leo XIII, the pocket watch ran for 40 days with a single winding. Aubry and his watch stole the show at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889, and was decorated with the Croix Pour l’Église. The gold case of this pocket watch has a fluted bezel – a motif Stéphane echoes on his Honoris I.
If Irénée Aubry succeeded over a century ago in designing an industrially produced watch with a running time of eight days, then Stéphane believed he should be able to stretch the power reserve of a haut hologorie timepiece even further, to 1000 hours. However, he set himself the target of achieving it without compromising on the principles of fine watchmaking, while making a watch that was wearable and as slim as possible.
Honoris I, Stéphane’s first watch under the Haute-Rive label, is an elegant formal dress watch measuring 42.5 mm in diameter and barely 12 mm thick. Its fully polished gold case is topped by a bezel with 60 concave facets and honed edges. Despite having the dimensions of an elegant chronometer with no special complications, Honoris I’s case houses several exceptional attributes.
It has a grand feu enamel dial, either black or white, applied on an 18-carat gold plate using the champlevé technique. The plate is cut to accommodate the movement’s three protrusions: a large wheel known as the wheel of time, the gear train under a central bridge with four pillars, and the tourbillon. The two leaf-shaped polished hands, depending on the version, are either white gold or flame-blued steel.
To achieve the goal of a 1000-hour power reserve, Stéphane developed the HR01 calibre. To stay within the stipulated case dimensions, he opted for a single mainspring, increased to its maximum size possible. This meant the plate had to double as its drum. The custom-designed mainspring is 3 meters long, certainly the longest ever installed in a wristwatch.
To deliver the smoothest possible torque, it is fitted with a sliding flange that prevents surges and peaks. The sliding flange also protects the gear train when the spring is fully cocked. The innovative 360-degree power reserve indicator is located on the case back. The winding, which can be spaced 40 days apart, is affected by turning the bezel counterclockwise. The bezel has 60 subtly recessed grooves that make it easy to turn the bezel by providing just the right grip.
Above the barrel, the HR01 calibre is topped by the ‘wheel of time,’ which transmits power to the gear train spread over seven vertical levels. At the end of this kinetic chain is a flying tourbillon. A large rhodium-plated brass cage, in the shape of an open-worked cross, holds the finely tuned assembly. The structure of the cage stands out, creating a third focal point above the enamel.
The function selector created for Honoris I is unique. It is linked to a crown that cannot be pulled out, to a column wheel, and to a sliding pinion located on the longest and most visible of all the crown stems. This directly engages the gear train for setting the time. The central, three-dimensional gear bridge, shaped like a double mustache, is an essential graphic that is also a horological element of HR01 calibre’s design and an Honoris I hallmark.
With Honoris I, one can state that Stéphane has taken his grandfather’s inventions to the next level, by creating the first wristwatch that not only has a 1000-hour power reserve, but also has a unique architecture, is wearable and elegant. A remarkable feat of horological engineering and artistry. One can only wonder about the magic yet to be unveiled.